Student Ideas Will Be Part of Shirley Ave. Gateway Project

Art teacher Nikki Murphy (standing) and Garfield Middle eighth graders Julie Hurtado (left) and Dakota Grieco (right) go over a design for the new Shirley Avenue gateway project during class last Thursday. Students at the Garfield will present their ideas for the project at a public meeting tonight, May 30, at the Hyman Towers.

A re-design of the Shirley Avenue gateway at the Revere Beach Train Station has featured the unique convergence of professionals and students – and the combination is producing some interesting results.

The Neighborhood Developers (TND) has recently initiated an effort to redesign the gateway to Shirley Avenue at the Station, and they have scheduled a public design meeting for tonight, Weds., May 30th.

Point person Rachel Meketon of TND said that the meeting, which is at 6 p.m. in the Hyman Towers, will feature three designs from professional landscape architects and ideas from students at the Garfield Middle School. The meeting will result in a consensus for what residents would like the “gateway” to look like, Meketon said.

That meeting, though, is only half the story.

For the past month or more, eighth-grade honor students from the Garfield Middle have been learning from the professional designers and slipping their own ideas into the mix.

Art Teacher Nikki Murphy and Technology Teacher Erik Halvorsen have combined their classrooms to create a petri dish for learning about architectural design – something very rare at the 8th grade level.

About 22 students are involved in the effort, and so far they have taken a site visit, learned to use professional design software and made their own 3-D drawings.

“They’ve all formed working groups and designed the spaces and elements like lighting, fountains and landscaping,” said Halvorsen. “They’ve been incredibly focused on this. It helps that it’s a real project, so it gives them intrinsic internal motivation. It’s not just something that is a paper exercise only. They’ll be able to see this process play out and they might even get to see some of their ideas in the final design.”

Murphy said that the students have come full circle in realizing the potential of their community and its “gateway.”

“I think this has been fantastic,” she said. “ I come from an architectural background and have actually taught architecture on the college level. It was great to see our students excited about a project. They know the neighborhood and they’re very opinionated about Shirley Avenue for one reason or another. They started off with some very negative perceptions at first, but they realized after further discussion how much potential that area has being close to the T and to the Beach.”

Last week, they were able to meet with Gretchen Schneider – a professional architect from Boston who is spearheading the project for TND. Schneider visited the class and learned about what they were doing and gave them some tips.

“This is an ideal scenario – not only are local folks involved in the decision making, but some of the youngest community leaders – the Garfield eighth graders – are thoughtfully analyzing the project and offering their own design visions,” said Schneider. “I enjoyed discussing each team’s design ideas with them in the classroom last week; the students have some very interesting proposals. They have some especially wonderful, unique designs for benches, light fixtures, and water fountains.”

Murphy said that the most positive aspect of the project is that the students are learning very practical skills about design and architecture.

“I taught at Wentworth in Boston in 2004 and the college students there were using Google Sketch Up, which is what we were using here,” said Murphy. “I kept telling our students here that the stuff they were doing was the kind of things that kids and students much older than them were learning.”

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